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Defenders of Ardania

Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Most Wanted Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Strategy/ Board Games/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

There's a wide range of tower defense games out there, in terms of window dressing. Some go for cute, while others strive for more realistic environs. Defenders of Ardania is on the latter side of the spectrum and reminded us a bit of Defense Grid, with lots of rich visuals and detailed character models. Come to think of it, Defenders of Ardania even has a narrator, albeit not quite as hilarious as the robotic voice in Defense Grid... We recognized George Ledoux immediately as the voice of Defenders of Ardania thanks to the excellent voice acting he did recently for Defender Chronicles on iOS. In both cases, Ledoux provides an introduction that places each level in the larger narrative and raises the whole production above route battles. You legitimately feel as if you're battling for some greater cause, even if things remain at a bird's-eye view.

Speaking of that, we found the camera a bit frustrating. It seemed as if we were always too high or too close to the action. It's possible to scroll around viewing the action, and you can toggle the zoom to get a better sense of the battlefield, but towers are so massive that they tend to obstruct the action. Perhaps this is intentional, an attempt to create a "fog of war" effect that rewards careful planning over quick reactions? The other reason your battlefield in Defenders of Ardania gets crowded quickly is that both you and your opponent can send troops out. Yes, that's a bit different than your typical tower defense game, isn't it? The fun factor of having your own units on the field is great, but the endgame of each level is fairly chaotic and hard to follow at times.


The distinction of managing both offense and defense isn't really new to gaming, just to the tower defense genre. Games like Starcraft elevated the build/fortify/attack dynamic to a fine art, and there have been a slew of turn-based and real-time strategy games ever since that strive to achieve the same kind of excellence. The first 15 minutes playing Defenders of Ardania feels like almost every other tower defense game, but hang in there for the big reveal. As soon as you learn the basics of building towers, you're given the task of taking out your enemy's castle. Huh? How is that supposed to work? Silly rabbit, you just start producing and deploying units from your home castle. When the shock wears off, you realize that this taps a skill you've honed in many a fine RTS. The further evolution of Defenders of Ardania brings in ongoing management of towers, the ability to cast spells, and targeting specific (often overpowered) enemies in quasi-boss battles.

The further evolution of Defenders of Ardania is multiplayer. With up to four players in co-op and online modes, you choose sides and roles to defend or attack, and there is also a mode similar to the feel of a solo campaign that pits you against a human rather than the CPU. If you're sold on the single-player premise of Defenders of Ardania, the multiplayer is what will keep you coming back. Most tower-defense games iterate through harder and harder enemies, unlock a variety of towers - that happens here, also - and then suffer from repetition. Because you can share the experience with a friend, and especially because you can replace canned A.I. with human intelligence, we'd wager that Defenders of Ardania will have a far better shelf-life than most games of its type. Even as pure tower defense games go, there are plenty of tower types (24) and units to explore, with the potential for DLC that will expand the game further, for players who want more.


There's no question that the tower defense genre as a whole tends to be challenging. It's not like playing turn-based strategy on a static board, where all you need to evaluate is each unit's relative strength. With games like Defenders of Ardania, you have a lot more factors to take into consideration. The most interesting, and often most frustrating, elements of Defenders of Ardania are not business as usual in this genre. First off, tower placement. Normally, you place towers wherever you darn please and win or lose based on how well you fortify and plan your placement. Here, you have an opponent able to place his own towers, competing with you for coveted real estate. If this weren't bad enough, you'll reach a point where the level is "full" of towers, a cap on placement. This forces you to make some strategic decisions that take focus off the towers, putting them instead on units and spells.

The second big difference is unit production and deployment. We separate these intentionally, because you're not locked into just one type of unit. There are tank units with high defense in exchange for slow speed, or other units that sacrifice toughness for speed. Not only can you choose different units per each "wave" deployed, but you can mix unit types in a single wave. Veteran tower defense players will know that timing is everything. Sending a mixed wave is fine, but what you really want is to have your tank units run cover for your fast, light units. Or the other way around... This kind of timing is possible in Defenders of Ardania, and desirable. You'll learn that certain units are more deadly when sent against specific tower types, and on specific terrain. Not only can you deploy a variety of forces, you can set waypoints and destinations for them in the level. If this is all starting to sound overwhelming, we haven't even covered the various mechanics around casting spells and managing towers. Defenders of Ardania does an admirable job packaging complexity, but it remains a complex game with a dizzying array of options for the player. We wished for a more gradual progression, a few more levels introducing new mechanics before everything was combined into one big stew. In exchange for throwing a lot at new players, Defenders of Ardania seems to offer a relatively weak A.I. at first. You'll know this when you see how quickly your enemy's health is depleted, compared to yours. Your first few games against a human-opponent won't be nearly as simple, and we almost felt that the single-player option was one big training ground for multiplayer. At the very least, multiplayer is where the learning and strategy you perfect will pay off or be deflated.

Game Mechanics:

When we mentioned packaging complexity, Defenders of Ardania does a fine job of mapping a complex game system to the Xbox 360 controller. It's hard to do this right, as evidenced by the derision PC gamers heap on most console RTS efforts. Most of this is undeserved, but we found Defenders of Ardania especially simple to understand and control. The main thing that helps is a style of control that is best explained as "workflow." When you're deploying nothing but towers, you have the classic option to select what you can afford and place it on the field. As you unlock new options, the tower selection is followed immediately by options to enhance the towers or cast a spell. Once the unit deployment phase begins, you will see a sequence of choices that you can take or ignore, related to buffing units and spending your spoils to improve your chances in battle. There aren't any hidden menus and submenus, but some players may not like having to click through choices each time they perform basic actions in the game. We found it refreshing, and liked the way Defenders of Ardania put various upgrade options front-and-center, in the flow of battle. The camera controls include options to click and show health bars for you and your opponents, helpful in those moments when you need to know where things might be becoming uneven. Most of the controls for basic battle commands are tied to single button-presses that unfold that sequence of menus we described, allowing you to focus your attention on the field of battle.

We were almost completely enchanted by the novelty of Defenders of Ardania, even if it feels like an overstuffed couch at times. Multiplayer tower defense is a cool enough concept, but the execution is what stood to make or break this game. We're confident that any RTS fan will like Defenders of Ardania, and slightly less confident that tower defense die-hards will be thrilled. To some extent, this game is a, "You got your chocolate in my peanut-butter," moment for the two genres, a mash-up of the planning/plotting elements typical in Tower Defense and the head-to-head combat elements of RTS. We've been fans of both genres for a long, long time, so we're happy to see the two combined. More than anything else, we like seeing traditional single-player genres taken into the realm of online multiplayer, since it's clear that this aspect of gaming is only growing.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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